Resilience: The new development buzzword in the era of climate change

Emory anthropologist, Olympic runner Haile Gebrselassie speak at the 2020 Conference on Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | Jan. 9, 2014

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Anthropologist Peter Little and long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie at the conference in Addis Ababa.

Haile Gebrselassie, the former Olympic long-distance runner, grew up poor in Ethiopia. He was one of ten children of a farmer, and developed his athleticism by running 20-miles, round-trip, from his rural home to school each day.

Now 41, Gebrselassie was a featured speaker at the 2020 Conference on Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security, held in Addis Ababa last month.

"We had just enough land," Gebrselassie recalled of his subsistence childhood. The population of Ethiopia has since grown, the country is rapidly urbanizing, and the size of family farms are getting smaller. "On top of that, nowadays there are many other problems," he said. "My province used to have very nice and cool weather, but the temperature has risen."

Droughts and other extreme weather events are more frequent, and yet, Gebrselassie is returning to his roots, investing his earnings as an international sports star into an Ethiopian coffee plantation. "I'm doing the same thing I did before, that is farming," he said in his address. "I'm planting coffee. It's a better farm, a better way, a modern way."

"His personal experience of not just getting through a life of poverty, but becoming a holder of 23 world records and two gold medals in the Olympics, is a powerful story of resilience," says Peter Little, an Emory anthropologist who was also a plenary speaker at the conference.

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